In Episode 4, Glass, Cain, and two first-year students—Katherine Schmitz ’23 and Demaro Ricketts ’23—highlight the innovative nature, purpose, and lasting impact of the College’s First-Year Seminar program.
In Episode 4 of Conversations Beneath the Cupola, podcast host, Gettysburg College President Robert W. Iuliano, is joined by four members of the Gettysburg College community—Director of First-Year Seminars and Alumni Prof. of Mathematics Darren Glass, Psychology Prof. Kathy Cain, and first-year students Katherine Schmitz ’23 and Demaro Ricketts ’23. Each guest highlights the innovative nature, purpose, and lasting impact of the College’s First-Year Seminar program through their unique lens.
Iuliano begins the podcast by asking Glass to discuss the history of First-Year Seminars at Gettysburg College. The program has gone through several iterations over the years, but Glass explains that its current form is designed to empower faculty members to pursue First-Year Seminar topics that align with both their own personal and professional interests, and the interests of students. Seminar topics include everything from video games as culture and the philosophy of monsters, to Italian food, but at their core, Glass says that each class provides students with the fundamental knowledge and skills they need to thrive at Gettysburg College.
Continuing the conversation on First-Year Seminars, Cain shares the personal experience that led her to develop her seminar, which explores immigration, identity, and development through a philosophical perspective. More so, she chose the topic of immigration and identity because it encourages students to be open minded, engage in conversation, and find common ground with their peers who might have different opinions and political views than they do.
Later in the episode, Schmitz and Ricketts, who both took Cain’s course in the fall, share with Iuliano what drew them toward selecting this particular First-Year Seminar. Further reflecting on their First-Year Seminar experience, Schmitz and Ricketts discuss their biggest takeaways, which include developing a close-knit community with their peers, finding their voice in the classroom, and learning from difference. Their final thoughts are advice to the upcoming class of first-year students.
The episode concludes with an anecdotal “Slice of Life” told through the president’s perspective. Iuliano briefly talks about the annual Support Staff Dinner that the College held in January, which celebrated the many quiet contributions to the campus that make everything we do here possible.
Guests featured in this episode
Darren Glass, Alumni Prof. of Mathematics and Director of the College’s First-Year Seminar program.
Kathy Cain, Psychology Prof. who teaches the first-year seminar class “Crossing Borders: Immigration, Identity, and Development.”
Students: Katherine Schmitz ’23 and Demaro Ricketts ’23
Kathy Cain: I really see the First-Year Seminar course as an opportunity for students to see the best of college and the best of the kind of education that they can get at a liberal arts college like ours.
Bob Iuliano: The work of both students and faculty at Gettysburg College is rooted in passion and cultivated with a shared curiosity to achieve the unexpected and to explore the unknown. Hi, and welcome to Conversations Beneath the Cupola, a Gettysburg College podcast where we highlight the great work happening on campus and beyond. I’m Bob Iuliano, president of Gettysburg College and your host. In this episode, we are joined by four members of the Gettysburg community, Professor of Mathematics and director of the First-Year Seminar program, Darren Glass, Kathy Cain, a psychology professor who teaches a First-Year Seminar course on immigration identity and development, and two members of the Class of 2023, Katherine Schmitz and Demaro Ricketts, both of whom completed Kathy’s First-Year Seminar in the fall.
Bob Iuliano: The First-Year Seminar program here at Gettysburg is a fundamental part of all students first semester experience on campus. It’s immersive. It’s interdisciplinary and innovative in nature. It gets the students and faculty talking together in a way that’s, I think, emblematic of what Gettysburg is. that sort of close interaction between faculty and students and the topics are incredibly broad. Darren, how did this concept first come up of having a First-Year Seminar program?
Darren Glass: So, actually, I have to admit, it came up before my time here, and I think it had gone through a couple of different iterations over the years. I think one of the things that makes Gettysburg’s First-Year Seminar program different from those at a lot of schools is that while we have a set of common learning goals, we really let each individual faculty member design a course that they think is the most appropriate for the students and for their learning goals and tailored to their own interests. So I think the goal really was originally just to do what we can to help students to thrive here at Gettysburg, and over the years the program has continued to evolve in many different directions at once while still trying to be a cohesive program.
Bob Iuliano: You talked about common learning goals while still giving the faculty the autonomy to make their own judgements. What are the goals that you see that you want all students to have when they complete a First-Year Seminar program?
Darren Glass: Well, I think ultimately as I said, the goal is to have students thrive in college and do the things they need to set them up for success. I think for our point of view that involves having small group interactions. All First-Year Seminars, I should say, are capped at 16 students and most of them are in the 12 to 16 range. I think it also allows them to develop that personal relationship with a faculty member and learn about the community as a whole. Most of our First-Year Seminars involve going out to different offices on campus, bringing in the study abroad office, going to see the art gallery, taking advantage of the rock-climbing wall is something that I always do with my students, to get them to see all of the different kinds of aspects of a Gettysburg College education.
Darren Glass: I also think we try to make most of the seminars have some kind of research experience, whether that’s a traditional research paper or presenting for a poster session or a panel. I think most of our seminars have some type of true research experience that students might not get in the other first year courses.
Bob Iuliano: I have to say, Darren, I recently had the real privilege of going to the presentation by first year students at the completion of their First-Year Seminars, and Kathleen, who we’ll be talking to later was one of the students who was presenting, and it was such a remarkable statement about what we do, really giving our students the opportunity in to work closely with faculty but also in their first semester to stand in front of a group of people and present the nature of their research. Congratulations. I think that goal is really manifested, at least by what I saw in the ballroom that day.
Darren Glass: I’m always impressed by the number of great research projects that our students can put together in the first semester. My own cryptography students very often do interesting things, whether it’s computer programming or history. You see a lot of people who are doing interesting social science research, and a number of these students really then go on to do research at a higher level throughout their college career and afterwards, and I think that the First-Year Seminars and the CAFE Symposium, the poster session that you’re referring to, are really great ways and stepping stones to help students take that goal, reach that goal.
Bob Iuliano: We’ve now made it mandatory effective next year. My sense is a large number of students already had voluntarily taken a First-Year Seminar. Why did the faculty make the judgment that turning to mandatory was the right step?
Darren Glass: So, we’re at about 90 percent of students starting in a First-Year Seminar in the fall and we decided after looking at that we thought that the First-Year Seminar experience was really helpful to our students. We saw that here on campus and it also goes along with a lot of national research that KU and others have done on high impact educational practices to show that an experience like a First-Year Seminar can really help set students up for success, and we really wanted all of our students to have that experience. We also felt like this was really saying to students as a whole, the faculty believes these are important, and sending that message was really something we wanted to do.
Bob Iuliano: I think you know that in my prior life I taught the equivalent of a First-Year Seminar and just thought it was a powerful experience for the students and for me the opportunity to learn from the students as they entered college was powerful, so I think that makes a lot of sense.
Bob Iuliano: So I may not be right about this, Darren, but as I look through the course catalog, which I would urge anyone to do, some of the topics are more, I don’t know if I have quite the right word for it, I would say they’re more accessible to a graduating high school student, whether it’s video games as culture or the philosophy of monsters which sort of does a deep dive into how monsters are depicted in literature and what that says about society. Is that by design, and if so, why?
Darren Glass: Well, I think the goal of the topics really is for, as I said, the students and the faculty member to explore some interesting topic that is probably something of great interest to the faculty member. Of course, faculty members have a wide range of interests and some of those sound and feel more academic than others, and I think we want to show students that you can explore even these sort of fun, cutesy things, whether it’s The Simpsons or monsters or superheroes or Italian food in an academic way and through different disciplinary lenses.
Bob Iuliano: You didn’t tell me there was Italian food. I might’ve taken that one.
Darren Glass: So I think that that is one of the goals is to find topics that will be attractive and appealing to students and that are attractive and appealing to faculty members.
Bob Iuliano: So with that, Kathy, over to you. Kathy, you taught a First-Year Seminar on immigration and identity and development through the lens of psychology. What do you see as the goal of your seminar and is it different than the goals that you would articulate for a class within the department?
Kathy Cain: I think in any class there are specific academic goals and I could talk about content-related goals in my seminar, but I think more broadly, I really see the First-Year Seminar course as an opportunity for students to see the best of college and the best of the kind of education that they can get at a liberal arts college like ours so that they really have that sense of what it’s like to dive deeply into an issue that they’re really curious about and approach it in a scholarly way and see where they can go with that.
Kathy Cain: I also think that it’s important for them to have that space to learn some of the college skills that they need, like reading critically and writing, and in the First-Year Seminar because it’s so small, I’m able to work individually with each student to kind of help bring them along as they’re working on those things. So, in that sense, the goals, I think, are much more about it being a First-Year Seminar than specifically about the topic of my seminar.
Bob Iuliano: To make sure I understand that, in part what you’re saying is the learning outcome is almost a set of learning skills more than it is necessarily an understanding, a deep understanding of the substantive topic. Is that a fair?
Kathy Cain: Yes, I think so, although I think it’s also the case that in any one topic that somebody teaches, people will come out with a deep understanding. I know I taught a seminar for many years that’s different from the one I teach now called The World’s Children, and I can’t tell you how many times I get emails from students who’ve graduated and they’ll say, “Guess what? I just got to do this program with refugee children through my graduate program in school psychology” or whatever it is that it might be, and they’re like, “And I’m still thinking about your seminar and all the things we learned there.” So I don’t want to underplay that people are learning real content, too, but I think I’m just saying that even more than the content that we dive into, it’s that learning to be a college student, learning the kinds of learning skills that we value here. That’s the most important thing that comes from that.
Bob Iuliano: How did you pick this particular topic as something that was worthy of a First-Year Seminar?
Kathy Cain: I come from a family with an immigration history. My grandparents on my mother’s side were immigrants from Ireland and there was a lot of drama in their story, and I’ve grown up with those stories and they’ve always been a very important part of my own identity and my family history, but they weren’t connected to my work as a psychologist. And then in 2009, ’10, my husband and I had Fulbright grants to teach and do research in Cairo, Egypt, and at the time our children were in high school and they spent a year at an American Egyptian school. And they made friends with a lot of kids who were Egyptian-Americans but were living in Cairo for various reasons connected to their family business or something like that, and I became very curious about it as a developmental psychologist and started looking at what we knew about Muslim kids in the United States.
Kathy Cain: And at the time I’d realized nobody was really looking at them from the lens of my discipline, and so I started doing research looking at Muslim youth in the United States. And the fact is that many, many Muslim youth in the United States are from immigrant families, and so suddenly there was this connection to my own family story. And so it was really wonderful, I think, coming together of my own personal interest and my professional interest, and then the more we saw about immigration in the news, I thought I could teach about this.
Bob Iuliano: It really underscores the point that Darren made earlier, that the topics of the First-Year Seminar emerged from a passion of the faculty member in the first instance, and like all good teaching, the more the faculty member is passionate about the topic, the more that passion gets conveyed to the students as they come in.
Bob Iuliano: Questions of immigration and identity, as you said, are quite topical. They’re not uncontroversial either, and so you had a group of how many students were in the seminar?
Kathy Cain: 16.
Bob Iuliano: So 16 students first semester. They didn’t know one another. They weren’t necessarily equipped with the skills of having difficult conversations in which there might be disagreement philosophically. How did you navigate that and was that part of the reason you ended up choosing that as a topic?
Kathy Cain: Exactly. I wanted to have those kinds of conversations, although I will say that I think students who choose a class like this have a real curiosity about immigration, come in that sense with an open mind. But it’s hard to create a climate where people feel free to really engage about what’s on their minds, and I think the students will be able to tell you more than I can about how successfully I was able to do that. Honestly, I feel like it’s something I learn every day of my life. But we did have some different opinions ranging from people on really overtly different sides of the political spectrum to people with closer knowledge of immigration, personal family stories, and other people who were kind of curious about the topic but didn’t have much connection.
Kathy Cain: I tried very hard at the start of the class to really intentionally build a sense of community. I asked the students to do a few things that really involved talking about themselves in a way that I think was hard. But I think that as we did that, people became more and more comfortable with talking to each other about it. I think we also tried to understand that there’s a difference between evidence and facts and our opinion about how to interpret those, and so we tried to come to a point where we could agree on a lot of the facts, even though we were each free to put them together in the way that made the most sense to us.
Bob Iuliano: It’s become increasingly hard for people to differentiate opinion from fact, and so helping students understand that difference matters enormously.
Bob Iuliano: You also had a community-based aspect to the seminar. Say a word or two about that and what you were hoping to accomplish with it.
Kathy Cain: Absolutely. The project involved working with students in the Latinx club at Gettysburg High School. Each of my students was paired with a partner at the high school, and we had a variety of, I guess I would say social activities of various sorts that the students could do over the course of the semester, and then at the end of the semester they interviewed their high school partners about their experiences as being from immigrant origin families in Gettysburg.
Kathy Cain: And I think one of the things I wanted most to happen in the course was to put a human face on immigration. I know one thing that I struggle with is when I hear people talking about immigrants as a them that’s not connected to an us, and so I wanted to make sure that our students saw local kids from immigrant families, not much younger than my own students who had a full face of full personality, a full life so that they could see the issues in a more realistic, in a more personal way.
Bob Iuliano: It’s one of the hallmarks that I’ve seen in my early times at Gettysburg that our students learn not only in the classroom but outside of the classroom in a way that just amplifies all that they do, and we see it through what you did, throughout the Center for Public Service, the Eisenhower Institute, other things.
Bob Iuliano: Darren, as you reflect on Kathy’s conversation, I hope it makes you feel good about what you were hoping for the First-Year Seminar and a manifestation of that.
Darren Glass: Absolutely. I think her seminar is an exemplary example, but I think we have many good examples and wonderful examples on campus. Many of our seminars do involve getting active in the community or field trips really throughout the Northeast, to be honest, and it’s a very exciting program to help develop.
Bob Iuliano: Last question for you, Kathy, and that is as you think about the students that you saw on week one and the students that you saw on, I should know the number of weeks in our semester, I’m going to say it’s 13?
Kathy Cain: 14.
Bob Iuliano: I was close.
Kathy Cain: 14 plus finals week.
Bob Iuliano: What would you say the difference was, particularly given that they are first years?
Kathy Cain: Well, we all knew each other well by the end of it and I think had real relationships with each other, but I would also say I’m always surprised and pleased by the maturation that I see both personally and intellectually, and to see the transition from that first summary to the last summary and that final paper is just remarkable. I also think the students were able to speak so articulately and with so much passion about immigration by the end of the semester, and that was really great for me to see.
Bob Iuliano: One thinks about the many strengths of the college, but it starts with faculty who are committed to the students in their development, and Kathy, I think your students were incredibly lucky to have had that experience with you.
Kathy Cain: I was lucky to have that experience with them, and I just want to say that.
Bob Iuliano: Learning is bilateral, is it not?
Kathy Cain: Exactly.
Bob Iuliano: They learn it as we teach.
Kathy Cain: Exactly. Exactly. And every semester they challenge me to be better and to learn more, and I love that.
Bob Iuliano: So, we’ve now heard the perspective of the faculty of the First-Year Seminar program. We now get the benefit of the perspective of the students who have gone through it. And so Katherine and Demaro, first just introduce yourself, a word about how you ended up at Gettysburg and your impressions now a semester and a half into your experience. We’ll start with Katherine.
Katherine Schmitz ’23: I applied to schools all over the country, and Gettysburg brought me a sense of community that I didn’t find anywhere else and I’m very happy that I’ve ended up here. I found a lot of great opportunities to grow as a student and just as a person, and I think the First-Year Seminar was a really important step for me to grow as a student and find my place here at Gettysburg.
Bob Iuliano: Demaro, how about you?
Demaro Ricketts ’23: In high school, I had an academic program, and one of the things they taught us was to find a college that fits us academically, socially, and financially, and throughout my college search I realized that Gettysburg ticked all those boxes, and so I decided to apply ED. Being on campus feels like home even before I was here.
Bob Iuliano: One of the downsides of a podcast is you can’t see how the students are attired, but Demaro has a vibrant orange Gettysburg College sweatshirt on, which I view as a real vote of confidence in the college. So you all both picked Professor Cain’s seminar. Why? I mean, there was an enormous variety of topics that could have chosen from. Why did you choose this particular topic?
Katherine Schmitz ’23: For me, I was interested in immigration, and also it’s a really current topic and I think it divides this country in a lot of ways, so I think it was interesting to see it from point of a scholarly point of view and get the evidence to make your own opinions because I think a lot of people make opinions not based on evidence and they make assumptions. So I think it was important to see it from a different point of view and make your own opinions based on scholarly work.
Demaro Ricketts ’23: I was scrolling through the First-Year Seminar list and I wanted to pick something that connected with me, and I am a first-generation immigrant. And so once I saw the topic, I found an immediate connection with that topic. Picking that First-Year Seminar taught me a lot about immigration from an academic standpoint, which was very helpful to me. I experienced immigration, but it was different from most of the stories we read about or we learned about, and so analyzing those experiences helped me to look at myself in a different way and see that I was even privileged even though I was still an immigrant.
Bob Iuliano: That’s interesting. Did you guys experience the way in which this class was taught as a First-Year Seminar? Was it different than the way that the other three courses you took last semester or the courses you’re taking this semester were taught?
Katherine Schmitz ’23: I think for me, a lot of first year classes that you take are hundred-level classes where it’s a lot of lecture-based, and normally they include your voice, but a lot of it is just learning the material. But our First-Year Seminar, I would say was almost entirely discussion-based, which I think was really important as a first-year student to be able to find your voice in a college classroom and know that even though you are a first-year student, you still have valued opinions. You still have important things to say and add to the classroom.
Bob Iuliano: Demaro, what about you? How do you evaluate the First-Year Seminar relative to the other courses that you took that semester or are taking this semester?
Demaro Ricketts ’23: I think one of the things that Professor Cain did well was creating a sense of community in our First-Year Seminars. I compared that to my other ... I have two classes this semester, which are also 16 students in the class, and we have a community but it’s not as close of a community as our First-Year Seminar was, and I think having that close-knit community was very helpful when it came on to sharing ideas or talking about a very sensitive topic.
Demaro Ricketts ’23: Being in Professor Cain’s class helped me to look at social issues from a different standpoint, and having conversations, it helped me to understand that we’re not all coming from the same background, and so we have different perspectives and I had to listen to others’ point of view and then understand where they’re coming from, but also put my voice out there in a way that they’ll also understand my standpoint.
Bob Iuliano: You have just given a powerful and articulate statement about why it is we do what we do here. We bring people together who don’t see the world through exactly the same prism and we learn from one another and from the benefit of those different perspectives of the world, so thank you for that.
Bob Iuliano: So you guys are nearly wrapping up your first year. There will soon be another class that follows behind you. What advice would you give to next year’s first years as they go about selecting a First-Year Seminar from what undoubtedly is going to be a rich array of topics?
Katherine Schmitz ’23: I think the biggest advice for me is finding something that you have a passion for or something that you want to learn more about. For me, I didn’t know a ton about immigration. I had an interest in it and I wanted to learn more, but I wasn’t necessarily educated on everything about it and educated enough to form my own opinions based on immigration, so I think the biggest thing for me is just finding something that you’re interested in and really want to dive deeper into.
Bob Iuliano: And Katherine, as I said to Demaro a moment ago, he talked about in powerful ways the importance of learning from difference and different perspective. I also just want to apply what you’ve said as well, which is the starting point for any source of understanding is being open to an understanding of the facts and then having your opinions follow up on the facts, not having the facts follow from your opinion.
Bob Iuliano: So, thank you for that and thank you both for joining us today for your endorsement of the work of the First-Year Seminar program, for your membership of this community, and as I said, I think a first year walking complication, I view myself as a member of your class, so I look forward to the three and a half years that will follow. Thank you, guys.
Katherine Schmitz ’23: Thank you.
Demaro Ricketts ’23: Thank you.
Bob Iuliano: Let me conclude with a slice of life from Gettysburg College. In January, I had the opportunity to celebrate the many quiet contributions to the campus that make everything we do here possible. Some 300 people came together on the night of a Ravens playoff game, no less, in an annual event that recognizes members of the support staff who are retiring or who have reached a service milestone. From a house carpenter to a member of the library curating our film collection to a veteran employee supporting the Orange and Blue Club, the people being recognized were essential Gettysburg: modest, giving and all in for the college. So, too, with a guest in attendance, their enthusiasm for friends and colleagues was infectious and the spirit in the room could not have been more uplifting. It was yet another proof point of what makes this such a special community and how fortunate we are to have people like those we honored that evening on our team. Congratulations to all the honorees and I am already looking forward to next year as celebration.
Bob Iuliano: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this conversation and want to be notified of future episodes, please subscribe to Conversations Beneath the Cupola by visiting gettysburg.edu or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have a topic or a suggestion for a future podcast, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you and until next time.